Why Punish? The Philosophy behind Criminal Sentencing
Why Punish? The Philosophy behind Criminal Sentencing
One of the problems that has faced humans throughout all civilizations is the question of how to deal with those who break the law, whatever that law might be. From the Old Testament and the Code of Hammurabi to our modern judicial system, the issue of appropriate punishment for each type of crime has always been hotly debated, because when it comes to crime and punishment, there are moral and philosophical questions that make it difficult to find a solution that feels fair to all. What are appropriate punishments, and what is the role of government and society in meting out these penalties?
When considering punishment for crimes, there are many factors that come into play. First, what is the purpose of punishment? Some would argue that it is deterrence. This means that if an individual knows that he or she will go to prison for committing a crime, that crime will not occur. Is that true? Looking at the statistics, the answer is “no.” In 1980, there were just over 24,000 inmates in Federal custody. In 2014, there were almost 209,000, more than eight times as many (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2015). Of course, that does not include those in state prisons or county jails. For example, in 2013, the last year for which complete statistics are available, an additional 1,350,000 individuals were incarcerated in state prisons (Carson, 2014). Just as is true of Federal inmate statistics, the state numbers have grown virtually every year for the last 30 years. This pattern would seem to be in line with the “justice” model of corrections—a plan of flat or determinate prison sentences—yo...
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...ifferent path, one that is fair to the victims and effective when it comes to dealing with criminals, but it is apparent that this method has not yet been discovered.
Carson, E. A. (2014). “Prisoners in 2013.” U.S. Department of Justice. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p13.pdf
Cooper, A., Durose, M. and Snyder, H. (2014). “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4986
Federal Bureau of Prisons (2015). “Statistics: Total Federal Inmates.” Bureau of Prisons.gov. http://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/population_statistics.jsp#old_pops
Santora, M. (2013). “City’s Annual Cost per Inmate is $168,000, Study Finds. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/24/nyregion/citys-annual-cost-per-inmate-is-nearly-168000-study-says.html?_r=0
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